Alumni Spotlight

Little-Thornsbury Family

By: Devin Hanners, '09
April 10, 2014

Some things are family traditions, wrapped in good, old-fashioned care and glee. Coming together for dinner once a week, celebrating one another’s accomplishments with joyous affection, those vacations you may have rolled your eyes at as a child but wistfully remember as an adult; all are time-honored examples. But have you ever seen a family whose tradition was attending college?

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jeff and Linda Little recently, who regaled me with a tale that is truly unique in many ways. Linda and Jeff graduated from then Pikeville College in 1987 and 1993 respectively. They both were presidential scholarship recipients, which made attending college in a difficult economic and cultural landscape possible. They each expressed how grateful they are for their mutual opportunities and the generosity that has been extended toward them.

Their story becomes more interesting as they shared the line of scholastic achievement that no one – least of all themselves – could have ever predicted. Since Jeff and Linda’s career on “The Hill,” Linda’s three sisters have each graduated from UPIKE as well. All four of these ladies serve our community today as K-12 school teachers; and each one of these ladies, along with their husbands, have sent their own children to school on “The Hill” as well.

Indeed, the line of Thornsburys and Littles to attend classes on “The Hill” is quite impressive. For Jeff and Linda’s part, two of their children have graduated from UPIKE. Lisa graduated in 2000 and is currently a teacher, while Sierra graduated with her bachelor’s degree in business management last year. But that’s just the beginning. Linda’s sister Sandy, a teacher at Shelby Valley Elementary graduated from then Pikeville College and went on to send her two children, Kolt and Jade, to her alma mater, who have both since graduated. Linda’s second sister Brenda, also a teacher teaching at Letcher County Central High School graduated from then Pikeville College. Her four children Jason, Rachel, Paige and Shelby have all graduated from UPIKE.  To round out the bunch, Linda’s youngest sister Crystal and her husband Rodney both graduated from then Pikeville College. Rodney is currently a physical education teacher at Shelby Valley High School and also serves as the girls basketball coach. Crystal, like her sisters, is also a teacher, educating students at Dorton Middle School. Their daughter Courtney is a senior at UPIKE studying elementary education.

While speaking with Mr. and Mrs. Little, I was greatly impressed to hear the name of each member that has found a home on “The Hill,” and find professional success. They are surely to be commended. During our conversation, there were two things they each wanted to express clearly to me. First, both Mr. and Mrs. Little wanted to express their deepest appreciation (as well as the rest of the family’s) for their alma mater, for the school’s generosity in awarding each of them scholarships to attend school. In Jeff’s case, he expressed his gratitude toward then Pikeville College for “taking a chance” on him. He had been in the workforce for 11 years when Pikeville College awarded him a full presidential scholarship. He was laid off from his job in a coal mine, an experience that has unfortunately became all too familiar recently to the residents of the mountains. He began classes in the fall of 1987, and managed to provide for himself and his family by working night shift at a new job while handling a 14-hour course load. Linda expressed similar sentiments to me. She originally attended classes in 1976, but had to put her degree on hold due to relocation in 1978. In 1984, she returned to Pikeville College on a scholarship. Together, they were each the first of their respective families to ever graduate college.
Before our conversation concluded, Mr. Little asked me to express his thanks to Brigitte Anderson for making him feel welcome. She was his instructor for English composition during his second semester at UPIKE and they have been friends since 1987.
To properly give credit to each career of the well over one dozen members of this tremendous tribe would take volumes; all have been on scholarships, all have successfully attended and graduated, all have moved into successful careers, and all have been inspired by the story of the hero “behind the scenes”. That hero is Linda’s mother, Hazel Thornsbury.

The couple informed me that Thornsbury has “literally ran a daycare” for the children and grandchildren of the family over the years so that each member could successfully maintain careers and daily lives while not having to place their UPIKE educations on hold. Throughout it all, she has been a stronghold of compassion and caretaking for the family, an inspiring figure that has always encouraged each of them to fulfill their dreams. Thornsbury’s dedication to the cause of her family is proof sometimes that the greatest stories are sometimes the quietest. Were it not for her endurance and unceasing service to her loved ones, these words would not be typed here today and the world would have missed out on the success story of a family steeped in the tradition of higher education. Congratulations to a long line of Littles and Thornsburys that have the reaped the benefits of their education on “The Hill” under the care and inspiration of a mother that believed in them. Two generations of Bears and still going strong; could there be a third generation on the horizon? There certainly will be if Thornsbury has anything to say about it.

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